Green initiatives are growing in Schuyler
SCHUYLER COUNTY—Two summers ago, a small group of concerned individuals met to discuss ecology and environmental ethics in the Hector Church fellowship hall. They brainstormed ways to conserve energy and alternative possibilities for generating it. They were excited about possibilities for improving their lives and the world around them—and they were also lonely because at that time, they knew of few other people thinking in this direction.
Not any more. Green initiatives have gone from a grass-roots concern to a more broad-based effort with a lot of enthusiastic municipal support. “We’ve been able to get a lot more energy around this,” says Danielle Hautaniemi, Schuyler County Director of Planning and Community Development. “It’s hard to talk to people about climate change, but when you start to talk about saving energy and saving money, it doesn’t seem like that far out of a concept. Why would you want to use more energy than you need to? It would be good to have more conversations about climate change but [it’s also good] if we can start talking to people around energy use and keeping down costs.”
With a view to greater energy efficiency, some of the recent renovation of the Schuyler County Courthouse was directed to insulation and replacing windows, says Tim O’Hearn, Schuyler County Administrator. “It makes a big impact in this particular building because the windows we replaced were 50 years old,” he says. “You could literally tell which way the wind was blowing by the way the papers blew on your desk.” The courthouse is now saving about $15,000 in energy costs annually, and O’Hearn expects a 10-15 year payback on the project.
Referring to the use of the Human Services Building, he says the county has significantly cut energy bills—savings 40-54 percent annually compared to previous office space in the Rural-urban Center. Sixty-two zones, linked to a computerized heating and ventilation system, “regulate the temperature more efficiently and economically,” O’Hearn says. “We’ve used those same systems in each building renovated.” The buildings are heated to 70 degrees in the “heating season,” and cooled to 76 degrees when outside temperatures are hot.
Federal economic stimulus money granted through agencies like the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal/state partnership, has funded several green incentives in Schuyler County. Brian Williams of the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development (SCOPED), says, “We’re in the middle of a switchover from 20th century systems to innovative systems, a lot of them decentralized, rather than one centralized mechanical system. A lot of the stimulus money was targeted to environmentally innovative projects, and we came along right in the middle of all that.”
Williams says one of the areas coming under scrutiny was the prospect of non-traditional solutions for handling waste water. “The traditional mechanical approach is a waste-water treatment plant. But mechanical systems are geared toward centralized systems and they’re expensive to operate. In Schuyler we’re such a de-centralized county, with four small geographically-dispersed villages. Then throw in wineries, breweries, the distillery.” Many of these require parking lots, and asphalt roadways, traditionally served by storm drains, funneling storm run-off and petroleum by-products to the lake. The roofs of houses and municipal buildings also concentrate water, which picks up roofing asphalt as it flows over buildings.
A more natural, gravity-fed solution, used extensively in the Midwestern states and just starting to be used here is a “rain garden,” a naturally landscaped area designed to absorb run-off from buildings and parking lots, able to return filtered water gradually to the water table using gravity.
Elaine Dalrymple, Field Manager for the Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation District, working with a consortium of other county and municipal agencies including Cooperative Extension and Scoped, worked to install a rain garden between the Montour Falls Village Offices and the library. Hard-packed clay was broken up, courtesy of the Highway Department and rock was added for permeability. Stan Beaver of Stillman’s Greenhouse chose plants and planned their placement; The FamilyTies 4H group from Watkins Glen helped with the planting under the direction of Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture Agent Roger Ort, and ongoing maintenance is provided by Arc.
“Hopefully we’ll have more rain gardens in the not too far distant future,” says Charles Peacock of SCOPED, who contributed to the design. “We want to find a home for one or two more. We’re not only using it for stormwater management but also as an educational tool, hoping we can get people to look at these rain gardens for home or commercial applications,” Peacock says.
The future has been partially secured through alternative energy learning laboratories in the Watkins Glen Middle School and High School. “At the middle school we’ve set up learning labs with a solar panel and wind turbines,” says Tom Phillips, Watkins Glen Central School Superintendent. “The whole premise behind that is to create educated consumers and have children understand how renewable energy can be used.”
Because the high school science and technology teachers wanted to initiate a continuation of that curriculum, the district applied for and received an $86,300 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to establish a second learning laboratory at the high school. “Not only to look at use of renewable energy, but they will also look at the mechanics behind solar and wind power and eventually use that information to design and assemble their own solar array,” he says. “It’s a discovery model, providing the students the opportunity to engage in learning about renewable energy and the promise it holds or doesn’t hold. The energy will be used to power the learning lab.”
Not surprisingly, an increasing array of ecological initiatives continue to be explored through the county.
That group of individuals in Hector became the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of Hector (ECCHO) and are partnering with Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies to sponsor a conference Saturday, Aug. 21 called “Awakening the Dreamer—Changing the Dream.”
“Consciousness-raising is the general goal,” says organizer Liz Adams. “The intent is to make people aware that we’re not caring from the earth as best we can.”